Stevenson grad Brunson adjusting well to NBA life
Used to having with the ball in his hands on the basketball court, Jalen Brunson found himself in an unfamiliar situation last Friday night.
But then, it's been a whole different kind of hoops season for the former Stevenson great.
He stood at center court, microphone in his hands and no ball, addressing Stevenson's fans and all of those who came to get a glimpse of him, an autograph or a picture with him. Stevenson honored the greatest player in its history before the Patriots played Warren in their final home game of the season. Brunson, enjoying a break from his rookie season with the Dallas Mavericks during NBA All-Star Game weekend, choked back tears at one point as he spoke.
Stevenson then had him unveil a framed display of his No. 15 jersey as well as a banner of him that will hang in the gym.
Before the festivities, he talked to reporters about life in the NBA and the relationships he maintains with so many former coaches, teachers and teammates at Stevenson. He said he keeps in touch with "everybody." He's even still dating his high school sweetheart, Alison, a grad student at Northwestern.
As far as NBA life, for the first time in all of his years playing basketball, Brunson is not a regular starter.
"I think the biggest challenge for me is just staying mentally strong," the 6-foot-3, 190-pound guard said. "I think I'm one of the most mentally strong people ever, just because I've been through a lot and have been able to be successful on the court.
"When it comes to the NBA, you never know when your number's going to be called. You could play no minutes one night and the next play 30."
Brunson has played in 49 games, averaging 6.8 points and 2.4 assists in 18 minutes per night. He nearly posted a triple-double (13 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists) at Philadelphia in early January.
"I'm happy (with the season)," Brunson said of his play. "I'm happy I'm just getting an opportunity. That's all I can ask for. I like where I'm at because I know I can get better. That's just going to drive me."
The length of an NBA season is another adjustment for Brunson, who won a state championship at Stevenson and then two NCAA national titles at Villanova.
"This little rest (all-star weekend) is good because I've played so many games," said Brunson, smiling. "It's taken a toll on my body. ... Twenty-five more (games left in the regular season). It is a lot, but it's a good problem to have."
"Little brother" treatment: Stevenson junior guard Matthew Ambrose, head coach Pat Ambrose's oldest son, has fond memories of Brunson's days at Stevenson (2011-15). He remembers his competitive but fun nature.
"He treated me like his little brother," Matthew Ambrose said. "It's awesome having him back. It's so cool. He's a guy I've always looked up to in my life. Just a great person and great player. ... I remember when I was little I'd come in on Saturday mornings, and he and Matt Morrissey and the guys (would be there at practice). I'd go up for a layup and they would block my shot as hard as they could."
"Amazing memories like that," he said.
Brunson on Ambrose: Before Pat Ambrose talked eloquently to the home crowd about Jalen Brunson the person and his impact on the Stevenson program, the former Patriots great gave his opinion on why he thinks his former coach wins year in and year out, regardless of talent level.
"I think he just understands his players and what that individual team needs," Brunson said. "You can't coach every team the same. He figures out what's the best for that team, how they can play and how they can be successful."
Brunson and Ambrose keep in touch regularly. Ambrose attended one of Brunson's NBA games in Dallas this season.
"Our relationship is still amazing," Brunson said. "I love the guy."
Return to the NSC Lake and Prairie divisions?: Pat Ambrose wouldn't mind seeing the North Suburban Conference go back to two divisions. One benefit would be having an NSC championship game again featuring the winners of the two divisions.
IHSA football will feature districts for football starting in 2020.
"Let's be honest: Why did the conference break up? Because of football," Ambrose said. "A lot of conferences break up because of football. So if you don't have the football conference anymore, bring back the other side and bring back the championship game."
He added he would be in favor of adding Grayslake Central and Grayslake North to the NSC.
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